Recording Public Meetings
Why can't everyone record meetings?
Over the past few months I have been broadcasting the Berkeley Heights Town Council and the Downtown Beautification and Communications Committee meetings. I have been doing this because people have mentioned that they were unable to regularly attend these meetings but were curious about what is going on around town.
For these broadcasts I have been using my cell phone and a small travel tripod at my seat and simply broadcasting to Facebook Live. It has allowed many people to see what is going on in these town council meetings. I usually have around 30-40 viewers when I broadcast which is more than the number of people in attendance at the actual meetings.
It is our common law right as NJ residents to record our public meetings and in the case with Berkeley Heights it is the most efficient way to provide the residents with this information. In Tarus v. Pine Hill, 189 N.J. 497 (2007), the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the common law right of individuals to videotape with reasonable restrictions.
Without these broadcasts there are a few issues:
- Our town, Berkeley Heights, does not consistently record/publish town council or other meetings. Town council published 8 out of 17 this year.
- The meetings they do record are recently made available more than a week after the fact. The June 28th a month later.
- Minutes of the town council meetings and commission meetings lack detail, including discussions with and answers by the council.
- Town council and commission members have protested at the presence of cameras or recording devices.
An ordinance has been proposed which will severely restrict recordings and photography by residents. This ordinance which will be introduced on Tues Sept 20th, 2016 to significantly reduce the public’s ability to record the meeting.
While exceptions are made for the press, I believe the restrictions in the ordinance are not reasonable: The ordinance appears to be designed to control who gets to record what and which answers make it out to the public. The restrictions may result in the recording of little useful material because of requirements like: recording from behind the last row, camera has to be manned and cannot be moved, no audio input feed, only 2 people will be granted permission to record, request are to be submitted 24hrs in advance and given out on a first come first served basis.
Recordings would not be able to be used to correct the official record. In addition, there is a strange part of the ordinance that asks that the original copy be handed over to the town and to be returned up to 5 days later.
It is important that we press for Open Government so the people can make correct decisions and participate more freely.